Maximizing Return on Employees


Get the best from start to finish

There are three keys to receiving the best return on your investment in employees. The first key is hiring the right ones in the first place. The second is keeping them for the long term. The third, which helps to retain them, is helping them enjoy what they are doing.

Hire the right people

It is important to know what you are looking for in new employees. What are the jobs you expect them to do? How much interaction with customers will they have? What skills are most important, and what secondary skills are desired? Which deficiencies can you alleviate through training? Do you expect to provide opportunities for advancement? What are the pluses and minuses of working for you? The more answers you can provide yourself to these and related questions, the better chance you have of finding the right people.

If you have well thought-out job descriptions, you have a better opportunity of conveying to prospective employees what you expect. Granted, in the green industry, most people have a certain amount of multi-tasking to do. If you let the interviewees know this up front, you can gauge how they react to that possibility.

The more likely a person is to interact with customers, the more important people skills are. It is much easier to train for required knowledge and information needs than it is to train in the area of people skills. Find out as much as possible about potential hires’ people skills. If some customer contact is going to be by phone, have interviewees take a sample call during the interview to evaluate how they respond to a set of general questions. Take them out to meet other employees and see how they interact with them. When you give a tour of the facilities, observe their reactions to certain occurrences. If you have plant materials in your yard, stop briefly to straighten a plant or pick off dead leaves. If they don’t follow your lead, it isn’t altogether bad, but if they do, it can be a good indicator.

Observe their vehicle. Find out if it is theirs or borrowed to get to your office. If it is theirs, consider its condition inside and out. Is it filled with trash? This is not to make a decision on whether or not to hire. It just provides more insight into the person and their personality.

Make note of their efforts to come prepared for the interview. Evaluate how they are dressed and groomed, as well as their overall attitude? Do they seem anxious to get to work? Do they know anything about your business and what you do?

The more you get to know about a person—their likes and dislikes, and what motivates them—the better chance you have of choosing the right people to add to your staff.

There may be some entry level or hard labor positions that you feel just need to be filled by a warm body, but your customers will be happier and your business will grow with the best warm body possible.


Once you have taken the time to hire the best employees and spent whatever necessary in training, it is most cost-effective to keep them. If, during the hiring process you found out what motivates the person, you can do everything possible to provide that motivation. One basic motivation is praise. Look for ways to compliment your employees. Observe them doing something right, and let them know how much you appreciate what they do. When you do have to correct them, start and finish with a positive. Let them know in the middle of the conversation what they need to change and how they can change it. The more positive reinforcement they receive, the harder they are going to work to receive more compliments.

Work with employees’ strengths rather than trying to correct all their weaknesses. You both will be much happier with the results.

Training is another important step in the retention process. When done right, it makes people feel better about themselves and encourages them to continually improve. There is even room for improvement in our greatest strengths. Also, keep in mind the difference between an individual’s strengths and knowledge. Knowledge gained through experience and training adds to a person’s strengths.

Encourage employees to obtain more knowledge in subjects that interest them. This certainly applies to areas that are going to help the business, but should not be limited to them.

Last, but certainly not least: treat your employees with respect. The more you treat them as valuable assets to your organization, the more valuable they will become. Give them as much ownership of their duties as possible. The more responsibility they receive, the more they will take. When they do make mistakes hold them accountable, but respectfully. Determine why the mistake was made and whether more training

would have helped. If you feel they learned enough from that mistake and how you handled it, move on. If you have to relieve them of some responsibility, let them know why, how much and what they need to do to regain your trust.  

A number of surveys have shown that money is not necessarily the greatest motivator. While making a living is important, most people want to enjoy what they are doing. Certain benefits can help to retain people, but there are limits. Making your firm a pleasurable place to work is going to keep employees and customers happy.

Helping employeesenjoy their work

If an employee enjoys what they are doing, they are more likely to stick around. If you do a good job of trying to keep them, they are going to better enjoy what they are doing. It is a non-vicious circle that is great in which to engage everyone.

Appreciation provides a level of enjoyment. Providing time off when possible for certain family events makes life more enjoyable. If you can do that, even occasionally, employees are going to feel that you care about them as much as you do the business. When you care about them, you have a much better chance that they will care about you and do the best possible job for you.

When a person knows what is expected of them, they have a better chance of doing it. This starts during the initial interview and continues throughout their time with you. When you play to their strengths, they are going to get stronger. As they grow into their position, whatever it is, the better they get at doing it. They are going to enjoy helping you grow your business. That will give you an opportunity to do more hiring and much less firing. That is going to provide more enjoyment for you.

The author is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.